Well, the sun is shining, the daffodils are out in the garden, the rowan tree is starting to come into leaf, and it’s almost warm outside – this must mean that it’s Spring and time to wake up the blog again. So here’s a group picture of five of the girls modelling the gansey sweaters I’ve knitted for them over the winter. Please welcome new girl Maru who steps onto the catwalk for the first time today.
The Gansey, or Guernsey, sweater is a very distinctive style of knitwear from the British Isles. Traditionally produced for fishermen who needed a hard-wearing garment that would resist sea-spray, the Guernsey is knitted from tightly-spun wool that can repel rain and spray. The name comes from the Channel Island of Guernsey, but this type of sweater was knitted in all the fishing communities around the British coastline, and the textured motifs knitted into the cloth – cables, chevrons, diamonds, zigzags etc – are often associated with particular settlements.
The patterns for the Kit’s Couture ganseys come from a talented designer who was born and brought up in the UK, but now lives in the USA. Deb Denair of Debonair Designs has created a couple of Gansey patterns, Whidbey for Kidz ‘n’ Cats, and Archipelago for sturdy 18″ dolls like Gotz and American Girl. Over the last 2-3 months I’ve worked with both patterns in a variety of colours.
So some general points first. Deb’s patterns are very clear and easy to follow. The patterns are designed for worsted wools available in the USA, but Deb helpfully tells us that this is equivalent to UK double knitting. She also gives UK needle sizes as well as the US ones. I used two different double knitting wools and both knit up to tension very well. My preferred double knitting is Jarol Heritage, a wool-rich yarn which comes in a good range of rich colours, but I also used Hayfield Bonus DK which is 100% acrylic but still knit up well.
Kit and Elisabeth are wearing the Archipelago design from Deb’s book of Seasonal Hand Knitted Designs for 18″ dolls (winter selection) which I was given for Christmas. All these patterns are sized for sturdy 18″ dolls, American Girl or similar.
I wanted to start knitting straight away and only had the cream Hayfield Bonus DK yarn in the cupboard. Cream is fine for those with a Summer clothing season like Elisabeth and Kit, so I begin knitting with the cream yarn, using sizes 10 and 9 needles as specified in the pattern. The body of the pattern seemed fine for size but when I got to the sleeves they clearly weren’t going to be long enough and I added in a second diamond band before shaping the sleeve top. When made up, the sweater fit Elisabeth nicely and I was impressed by how well it suited her – gone was the gawky child and instead she looks natural, relaxed and – wearing her John Lennon-style shades – pretty damn cool.
For Kit I chose the Jarol Heritage DK in shade 102 (Wine) which matched the claret-coloured flowers on her leggings. In my photographs this looks rather orange, but in reality it is a true wine-red, a sweet pea shade firmly in the Summer palette. I knit the pattern incorporating all the adjustments I’d worked out for Elisabeth, but adding a couple of extra rows in the diamond section to finish off the tops of each diamond properly. And then of course I had to adjust all the buttonholes by two rows all the way up the back button band (arrgghh). The adjustments worked well and Kit looks really happy in her gansey and watch cap.
I should mention that Kit, Elisabeth and Annika are all wearing leggings cunningly made over from some baby leggings I found in my local supermarket – more of this in a later post.
I went on to knit three versions of the Whidbey pattern for slim-bodied 18″ dolls. I began with Maru as I was desperate to create something for her, and I chose the Jarol Heritage DK shade 140 (Gold) which is right for her Autumn clothing season. I used one size larger needles than in the pattern (size 10) and worked the body of the sweater exactly as in the pattern. When I came to the sleeves, however, I had to lengthen the section above the elbow in order to get the length her longer arms needed. When it was made up, I felt the body of the sweater was too short for her, and if knitting it again I would add in another full diamond motif. You live and learn. The watch cap pattern needed no adjustment to fit Maru’s head which is of a size with the Kidz ‘n’ Cats.
Next I used Jarol Heritage DK shade 132 (Rust) to make Annika’s gansey; and after that, Jarol Heritage DK shade 110 (Saxe) for Sophie. The Rust looks great on Annika (also an Autumn), but I feel the Saxe blue is less successful on Sophie, whose clothing season is Spring. In the shop the yarn looked like a clear Spring blue, but now I’m not so sure…
After my experience with Maru I lengthened the body of the sweater, working an extra 4 rows in the diamond section, and adjusting the back buttonhole positions throughout (argghh again). There was no need to adjust the sleeve length though. The watch cap fits Annika well, but for some reason – probably her longer face shape – Sophie looks a bit swamped in hers.
A traditional gansey is knitted in one piece like a tube up to the armholes, but these doll ganseys fasten at the back with buttons, to allow for easy dressing and undressing.
Kit and Annika show how these buttons can be made a feature of the design. Annika’s are orange and tone nicely with the rust wool, while still standing out enough to be striking. Kit’s white buttons contrast sharply with the wine red of her gansey, and are stitched on with crosses of wine-red wool.
Overall I’ve been very pleased with the Debonair Designs patterns. Yes, I had to adjust them slightly, but every yarn knits up differently and the patterns are so clearly laid out that it was relatively easy to make the minor changes I needed. I really enjoyed doing textured knitting again and it was good practice for the more challenging cabling in my next project… which will follow in the next post.
So Spring has sprung, there’s enough light for photography again, and Kit’s Couture is back in action. It’s been a pleasure writing this and I hope to keep the posts coming pretty regularly over the next weeks and months.